When Abdel-Raouf Salloum decided Damascus was no longer safe for his family and crossed the border into Lebanon seven years ago, he thought they would be gone three months.He did not expect that, on Canada Day 2019, he and his family would be raising their right hands and swearing their oath of Canadian citizenship.“It’s a very proud moment. Some people, they dream of Canadian citizenship,” Abdel-Raouf said as he welcomed visitors into their St. Laurent Boulevard home a few days before the ceremony. As he does so, 21-month-old Mira Salloum, points silently, but excitedly toward two Canadian flags on a coffee table.The Salloums landed in Toronto on Dec. 31, 2015, aboard just the second aircraft of displaced Syrians airlifted to Canada. They were on the leading age of a wave that would eventually resettle 25,000 people fleeing Syria’s bloody civil war. They are among the first to qualify for citizenship.Abdel-Raouf, 45, and his wife, Amani, 34, studied for months to prepare for their citizenship tests. Joining them Monday at their swearing-in ceremony will be children Ghina, 16, Mona, 14, Maria, 8, and Mira, who was born in Canada, so she is already a citizen.
Abdel-Raouf Salloum and his wife, Amani, with their daughters, left to right, Maria, 9, Mira, 21 months, Ghina, 16, and Mona, 14.
Errol McGihon /
Abdel-Raouf was working as an agent for a paint company in Damascus when he realized the country was becoming too dangerous for his family. In July 2012, they set off for neighbouring Lebanon, eventually settling in Beirut, just 80 kilometres from home. In those days, the journey to safety was easier; the Salloums simply drove off in their car. The horror of refugees crossing the Mediterranean Sea — and the shocking photo of three-year-old Alan Kurdi’s drowned body — was still three years in the future.As the Salloums waited in Beirut, the situation in Syria grew worse: new weapons, more fighting and more deaths. Three months dragged on into three years. The family registered with the United Nations and were surprised to learn that Canada would welcome them.“I knew Canada was a huge country and I knew it was cold and very far,” Abdel-Raouf said. “We used to have a joke in Syria — ‘Do you want to go to Canada?’ — because everyone knew it was very far away.’”But he also knew Canada was a progressive country, a safe country with good education, good health care and opportunities for his children.“For all these reasons, I leave Syria,” Abdel-Raouf said.“Because of us!” Ghina chimes in.“I took it as my responsibility to move here for more safety,” he continued.Learning English was the family’s toughest challenge, Ghina said. Syrians study English in school, but only grammar and writing, so there is little chance to practise speaking it.“I went to ESL right away — my sister and I — and we learned how to be confident and to speak,” Ghina said. “The next year, my teacher told me I didn’t need ESL any more. I said, ‘Are you sure? I only came last year.’ She said, ‘I’m sure.’“I’m so proud of myself. I really want to be Canadian because … my teachers made me like that. I’m so proud.”Abdel-Raouf now works as an Uber driver and the whole family pitches in with a catering business that features Syrian sweets and desserts. Ghina has a part-time job at Cosmic Adventures.They know they are lucky to be here and are excited about Monday’s ceremony, and they’re grateful to the Canadian government for welcoming them and other Syrians.“We will not forget Prime Minister Justin Trudeau,” Abdel-Raouf said. “He could not stop the war, but he could make people safe. He’s a great man.”ALSO IN THE NEWS:Lightning sparks three overnight firesPolice to tackle distracted driving, cycling safety in July1310 News cancels Rick Gibbons Show